Help, The World Is Burning And So Is My Mental Health (But I’m Not Alone)

climate change eco anxiety Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

Eco-anxiety – the feeling of despair in concern to the permanent damage to the environment — has been increasingly on the rise. Just like the sea levels. Not only that, but the Earth is getting warmer each year; there’s plastic everywhere, and the ones in power keep pretending climate change doesn’t exist.

According to Beyond Blue, 45 percent of Australians will experience mental health problems in their lifetime, with over 2 million Australian adults having anxiety. There’s yet to be an official statistic for eco-anxiety as it is still a relatively new concept, although psychologists are becoming acknowledging it. As headlines are reporting that we only have twelve years to reverse the damages of climate change, eco-anxiety continues to spread.

Back in May of this year, science educator/TV presenter Bill Nye appeared on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver to remind us of the Earth’s grim future. “By the end of this century, if emissions keep rising, the average temperature on Earth could go up another four to eight degrees. What I’m saying is the planet’s on fucking fire…” I can’t speak for everyone, but I think it’s safe to assume we’ve screwed up if we’ve pissed off Bill Nye.

I first encountered eco-anxiety a little over a year ago after watching The True Cost (2015). The documentary detailed the impacts of fast fashion on people and the environment. It also covered the Rana Plaza incident of 2013, in which over a thousand garment factory workers tragically died due to poor structure.

I had a mild guilt-induced panic after facing the fact that I contributed to this with my purchases from H&M, Topshop, and other fast fashion retailers. The fast fashion industry is now the world’s second largest polluter, right after the oil industry.

Companies exploit poor factory workers, waste enormous amounts of water and energy to produce clothes, and then dye them in toxic chemicals that get washed into the eco-system. What you get in the mail never looks like what you ordered online because we’re wearing literal garbage. The poor quality and low prices of fast fashion has created a ‘throwaway culture’, which encourages consumers to perpetuate a cycle of binning clothes and to replace them with more cheap clothing.

On average, Australians buy 27kg of textiles every year, before sending 23kg of them into landfill. But it’s supposedly okay because it was only ten dollars anyway. If you’re like me and can’t afford to pay for high quality slow fashion, there are other alternatives such as thrifting at Vinnies, resell app Depop, clothing swaps and vintage markets.

Opting for a vegan and zero-waste lifestyle is a good start to reducing your carbon footprint. However, this is only scratching the surface towards making real change. The fact of the matter is the Earth is dying because of capitalism.

In June 2018, Woolworths and Coles announced that they were going to ban their plastic bags in favour of reusable ones. Except these bags are still plastic. No real change has been made when supermarkets are still providing readily made, albeit, more durable plastic bags. Since these bags are made with more plastic, this only means they’ll take longer to break down, and will have a longer chance to choke a turtle.

Woolworths proudly claims to have issued three billion less plastic bags from its stores over the past year — and yet it’s still almost impossible to walk into any supermarket and find a piece of produce not covered in plastic. Supermarket chains are massive contributions to the plastic problem in the first place, and they’ve put in the bare minimum effort to try to solve it.

Despite all this, I couldn’t just up and stop doing my grocery shopping at my local Woolworths. Girl’s still got to eat. I tell myself that it’s not my fault the oceans are drowning in garbage when I’m packing a plastic box of blueberries into my tote bag at the self-checkout.

What does it say about the state of the world we live in when it falls onto ordinary people to urge governments and corporations to use their resources and do something about climate change?

On April 11 2019, over eight thousand Amazon employees banded together as ‘Amazon Employees for Climate Justice’ and sent an open letter to Jeff Bezos. Bezos, who has a net worth of $111bn, has more than enough resources to redefine Amazon’s strategy and address the climate situation. Meanwhile, his employees can’t even afford a pee break during their shifts. Honestly, this should be the actual Amazon that’s burning.

On Wednesday, September 25, ScoMo addressed climate activist Greta Thunberg’s speech to the UN, saying that children shouldn’t be having “needless anxiety” on climate change. Speaking to RN Drive on ABC Radio National, Professor Anne Sampson said:

“I wish it [climate anxiety] was needless, but unfortunately children know, and they have a right to know. Perhaps they know better than what our Prime Minister does. We can’t hide from them the fact that Australia isn’t doing enough and emissions are still increasing.

I think what we’re learning from school strikers is that taking action is a very powerful way of managing your anxiety. Many of our Australian strikers have said they were feeling fearful and angry and frustrated. Until they started taking action, and then they felt like they had a bit more control, and that they can make a difference.”

Trying to reduce my carbon footprint when it seems like the world is going to end anyway sometimes makes me think, “what’s the point?” The changes I’ve made to my lifestyle won’t make a dent in the effort to save the planet. The world is the way it is right now because of capitalism, and as every day passes, it feels as though we can’t get out of this situation.

However, I’d like to think there’s still hope. It’s easy to get lost in all the news and feel powerless to change what’s happening around us. While the world is burning right before our eyes through our phones, we might as well try to let each other know it’s somehow all going to be okay.

Stephanie Nguy is a freelance writer from Western Sydney. She is currently studying a Masters in Publishing at the University of Sydney, and also works in editorial. When she’s not panicking about the environment, she enjoys second-hand shopping and watching anime.